In a move that is already generating pushback from conservatives, the federal government today announced new guidelines that would require insurers to cover contraception without co-pays.
Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said during an afternoon conference call that besides free contraception, the guidelines  would require new health insurance plans to cover women's preventive services such as HIV screenings, wellness visits, breast-feeding support and domestic violence screening, beginning August 2012.
The new rules, part of the Affordable Care Act, come after the Institute of Medicine last month recommended preventive health care measures for women. The HHS today announced the adoption of those recommendations, which come amid increased health care costs that have left basic care unaffordable for low-income and ethnic-minority women.
"For too long, many American women have gone without preventative care services because it cost too much," Sebelius said, adding that the result is "small health care problems grow into big ones."
The Guttmacher Institute released a statement, saying that the new guidelines would improve access to contraceptives to millions of women, especially those who are at low-income levels. Fifty-one percent of 2 million publicly funded births in 2006 were the result of unintended pregnancies that cost $11 billion, according to research from the institute.
"Making contraceptive counseling, services and supplies -- including long-acting, reversible methods (the IUD and the implant), which have high up-front costs -- more affordable addresses the fact that cost can be a daunting barrier to effective contraceptive use," states a Guttmacher news release. "Removing that barrier for women covered by private health plans not only makes it easier for them to use contraception generally, but will also allow them to use the most effective methods, which they might not previously have been able to afford."
But Ryan Bomberger, the conservative co-founder of the Radiance Foundation -- which has led a controversial, national anti-abortion billboard campaign (toomanyaborted.com ) -- said the guidelines lack moral strictures. He said the group would step up its anti-abortion campaign.
"This falls in line with new leadership of Health and Human Services that is very pro-abortion," Bomberger said of Sebelius to The Root. "The new guidelines do not provide a moral construct, which is where it will be potentially destructive. It does not center on behavior. Politically, I don't see how that kind of recommendation will be able to survive."